Ashley Smith is known worldwide as the single mother who persuaded Brian Nichols, Atlanta’s courtroom killer, to surrender to police. Nichols himself called Ashley “an angel sent from God", but ironically, it was Ashley’s less-than-angelic past that convinced him to face justice. Ashley believes God led her through the highly publicized experience to help “unlikely angels” everywhere find hope.
Ashley was born in Augusta, Georgia, surrounded by a God-fearing, sports-loving family. Her parents divorced when she was a toddler. Too young, she took up with Mack Smith, a volatile man with a disreputable past. Ashley became pregnant less than a year into their relationship, and the couple married just two months before baby Paige was born prematurely. Just as they began to settle down, Mack ran into his old gang and was fatally stabbed by people he once called friends.
Following Mack’s murder, Ashley willingly gave her aunt custody of Paige. Ashley loved her daughter, but she also struggled from a debilitating addiction to methamphetamines. Ashley says she heard God calling, but kept putting Him on hold while she flirted with temptation.
Ashley’s life changed dramatically on March 11, 2005, when Brian Nichols forced his way into her apartment following his deadly rampage at Atlanta’s Fulton County Courthouse. After offering Nichols her remaining stash of methamphetamines, she brought out her copy of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life. During her seven hours as Nichols’ hostage, her life-story and Warren’s direction made Nichols consider how God could use him if he surrendered. He did so the following morning.
Afterwards she wrote her best-selling book, Unlikely Angel—The Untold Story of Atlanta’s Hostage Hero, donating proceeds to a memorial fund honoring the victims of the Atlanta courthouse tragedy. She returned to the familiar embrace of her family and now lives with them and her daughter Paige. Ashley’s familiar face reaches seekers from all walks of life, and her authentic, quietly courageous testimony exemplifies a genuine, guiding faith.
"Ashley's story illustrates four spiritual truths that give us hope and encouragement for those difficult times in our lives. First, no matter what bad decisions you've made, you don't have to stay stuck in your past. Your past is past, and it's never too late to start over. Second, God's purpose for your life is greater than any problems you're going through. Third, the Bible really changes people. And finally, the fourth truth is that God has the power to help you over any addiction." - Rick Warren, Pastor, Saddleback Church
"Ashley Smith has a God-given presence and story that will impact any audience. She is the most generous speaker we have ever had; making extra ministry appearances at a prison, speaking to 100 women, 25 who committed their lives to Christ. Ashley holds nothing back, gives all the glory to God and loves Him personally. Many in attendance responded to the Gospel message. I cannot recommend her highly enough." - Director of Women's Ministries, Christ Community Church Omaha, NE
Ashley spoke at my churchin Las Vegas, NV this weekend and I listened intently as she told her story. She reminded me so much of myself as she spoke. After she spoke I realized that I needed to get back to a life that involved God. I just wanted to tell her thank you for what she did for me that day. I just hope that she will know how she has impacted my life!!
Our church invited Ashley Smith to a community event to celebrate our 5 years of providing recovery and for the purpose of sharing with the community the message of the hope of Christ that is possible even through challenges in our lives. Ashley Smith exceeded our expectations for this event. She was transparent and honest. She presents her life story and the events leading up to her hostage experience with genuine humility and truthfulness. From the moment she arrived our staff commented on what a pleasure it was to get to know her and work alongside her. Her presentation and message is clear and purposeful. It was truly a pleasure having her. The audience she addressed was diverse; some came to hear a story that they remembered from the past, some were in recovery looking for inspiration and hope, some there to check out the 'real person' behind the life story told in the movie "Captive". But regardless of why people came, the response we received was consistent. The audience was encouraged by her words, her courage and her life story.
By her own account, Ashley Smith is far from an angel or a hero. Yet today, her face is known around the world as the single mother who persuaded Brian Nichols, Atlanta’s courtroom killer, to surrender to police. Nichols called Ashley “an angel sent from God, but, ironically, it was Ashley’s less-than-angelic past that allowed her to convince him to face justice.
Elizabeth Ashley Copeland Smith was born August 1, 1978 in Augusta, Georgia, surrounded by a God-fearing, sports-loving family. Her parents divorced when she was a toddler, and she spent much of her early years in the company of her mother’s extended family - especially her grandfather and aunt, who both worked at Augusta Christian, the private school Ashley attended through 8th grade.
At an early age she took up with Mack Smith, and became pregnant less than a year into the relationship. The couple married just two months before baby Paige was born prematurely, weighing less than 3 lbs. It was a volatile marriage, but Ashley was determined to keep her family together. Things were beginning to settle down when Mack ran into his old gang, exchanged ugly words and was fatally stabbed by people he once called friends.
Following Mack’s murder, Ashley willingly gave her Aunt Kim temporary custody of Paige, who was now a healthy six-year-old. She wanted to be a mother to her daughter, but her addiction to methamphetamines kept pulling her farther away from her dreams. God kept calling, but Ashley always put Him on hold while she flirted with temptation. All of that changed dramatically on March 11, 2005, when Brian Nichols forced his way into her apartment following his deadly rampage at Atlanta’s Fulton County Courthouse. He asked for marijuana. Before thinking it through, she offered him her remaining stash of meth - the thing that had dragged her life down. Several miracles followed, which allowed her to talk to Nichols about God’s purpose for their meeting.
Among her few possessions was a copy of Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Life.” She was on chapter 32—“Using What God Gave You.” During her seven hours as Nichols’ hostage, she read from this chapter and encouraged him to consider how he might be able to serve God if he surrendered, which he did the following morning.
Ashley believes that God led her through her dark hours with Nichols, and has called her to use the highly publicized experience to help unlikely angels everywhere find hope.
Today, Ashley is back in active worship at The Church at Greenbrier, attends weekly Bible study, and is living with her daughter Paige. She has returned to the familiar embrace of her extended, sports-loving family and has embarked on a tour to promote “Unlikely Angel-The Untold Story of Atlanta’s Hostage Hero,” which debuted at #15 on the New York Times Bestseller List. According to her wishes, some of the proceeds from the book will be donated to a memorial fund that will honor the victims of the courthouse tragedy.